The Vermont Ratification Convention

Here’s something that I didn’t know until yesterday: Vermont held a convention to ratify the Constitution. Vermont was an independent country (in other words, it was not part of the Union under the Articles of Confederation). In 1791, delegates were elected for a convention and they voted by a large margin to ratify. (Shortly afterward, Vermont was admitted as a state in time to also ratify what became the Bill of Rights.)  I’m going to read the records, though at first glance it seems like the focus was mostly on whether Vermont should stay independent rather than on what the Constitution said.

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5 Responses

  1. John Dereszewski says:

    Your note touched upon something that always interested me. While we all know that Texas existed as an independent country for nearly a decade and that California went through a much shorter period as an independent state, very little is known about the Vermont experience. Yet, from the time – I guess in the late 1770’s – when they kicked the interlopers from New York and New Hampshire out until 1791, Vermont existed as a totally independent nation. Except for one notable fact – its constitution was the first one to outlaw slavery – very little is known about this not very short period. Did Vermont have a President?; if yes, who held the position?; if not, what sort of chief executive system did it have?; what kind of foreign policy did Vermont pursue? how extensive was the opposition within the State to joining the Union and what alternatives did they suggest?; etc. These are all interesting questions. If you come up with anything, I would love to hear it.

  2. John Dereszewski says:

    Thanks Stefan for the link. (This is what I probably have done before sending the last message.!)

    In looking at the actual text of the 1777 constitution, I saw that in Section I, Clause XV, it speaks to “a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves”. – themselves meaning individual persons and not State militias.

    Thus, while – despite all of the awful history summoned in the Heller opinion – the dominant, if not exclusive, original focus of the Second Amendment was to prevent the new Federal government from suppressing the individual State militias – just as the Third Amendment wanted to prevent the new government from assigning its soldiers to be housed in individual private houses – the idea of a personal right to bear arms was certainly present at the time; it just was not something that was the principal focus of the Second Amendment. If anything, the protection of an individual right to bear arms was something that needed to be protected – or not protected – at the State constitutional level.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      As I understand it, about that time there was a very strong, I’m not sure “fad” really describes it, but drive to make writings as short and concise as would serve the purpose at hand. If an amendment protecting the right to be armed served multiple purposes, it would not have been thought necessary to list them all.

    • Joe says:

      The phrasing is notable since such provisions were written in various ways:

      “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State; and, as standing armies, in the time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

      It was not denied that “the idea of a personal right to bear arms was certainly present at the time.” The primary DISSENT in Heller cited the constitutions of both PA and VT on this very point. And, I doubt there was an implication that people who resides in the wilds of U.S. territory didn’t have a right to self-defense either.

      The general argument is that the 2A is not specifically concerned with that. It is concerned with a more narrow thing that was of particular concern and was deemed to warrant an explicit security (as compared to a catchall like the 9th Amendment). And, the 2A did concisely address this by its language. Cf. the 1A which much more open-ended speaks of “speech.”

      Again, this does not mean there lacks a right to own a weapon for self-defense any less than there is no right to raise children as one likes (within limits) or any variety of rights protected these days.